By Alva Mulbah Wolokolie
The chairperson designate of the Liberia Telecommunication Authority (LTA) Madam Angelique E. Weeks has admitted to both administrative and financial irregularities and control weaknesses at the institution saying no one is ‘infallible’. The financial irregularities noted amounted to US$1,259,980.68 and included among others, irregularities involving payment made from LTA’s account without budget and approved budget.
Other irregularities included overpayment of per-diem for foreign travels, failure to retire foreign travels documents for incidental allowance, staff awarded salary before effective date of employment and outstanding checks for more than six months.
The LTA was established mainly to regulate and license all telecommunication businesses and regulate frequency usage in the country and at the same time collaborate and consult with the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications Corporation and other government institutions to engage in activities relating to the telecommunication sectors.
Madam Weeks admitted to the irregularities during the week-end when she and other Board of Commissioners of the LTA appeared before the Joint Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Legislature to respond to the General Auditing Commission (GAC) audit reports for the fiscal years 2009/2010 and 2011, but released on April 20, 2011.
During those periods under review, the LTA disbursed an amount of US$183,000.00 on per-diem for its officials and employees on foreign travels which were not in accordance with government’s foreign travel ordinance.
Based on the requirements of the foreign travel ordinance, the GAC report indicated that instead, a total amount of US$134,216.25 should have been spent. Thus US$48,783.75 was over-spent on per diem above the approved official amount. Additionally; expenditure on foreign travels incidental allowance amounting to US$29,700 was made without adhering to the procedures and guidelines as it relates to retirement of travel documents for incidental allowances received for the travel.
According to the report, the excess payment to the LTA’s employees and officials for foreign travel per diem as well as the expenditure incurred for incidental allowances without adhering to the travel retirement policy is a clear violation of the government’s policy on foreign travels.
The GAC report says, LTA Board of Commissioners should provide justification for these omissions and account for the US$48,783.75 over-spent on the officials and employees. The non-retirement of the expenditure amounting to US$29,700 should also be accounted for.
Also in the report, it discovered that the LTA management operated without budget guidance for a period January 1, 2009 to March 31, 2009. Even though there was no budget for the period of three months, expenditures as per the authority, bank statement from the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), which amounted to US$336,109.13 were incurred from the authority’s account during the three months.
The report explains that it is a requirement of section 9(5) of the Telecommunication Act of 2007 that the LTA Board of Commissioners should prepare annual budget for the entity’s operations to be submitted to the President of the Republic for approval for the authority’s operations. The GAC recommended that the LTA Board should provide justification for its failure to prepare budget for its operations.
Additionally, the report says there was no evidence that the budgets for the financial years 2010 and 2011 were approved by the President of Liberia. It is a requirement of Section 9(5) of the Telecommunication Act of 2007 that the LTA Board should prepare annual budget for the entity’s operations which shall be submitted to the President for approval. The report further says LTA’s pursuit of operations without the guidance of an approved budget implies discretionary operations which may not yield optimum outcomes.
For the period of 2010 and 2011, the management of LTA did not adhere to the PPC Act of 2005 for the procurement of some capital goods and award of contracts. Examination of documents revealed that procurement of capital of capital goods were not supported by relevant documentation. As observed, capital goods totaling US$16,520.00 acquired by the LTA during the periods under review were not supported by appropriate documentation.
For instance, the contracts were not published in procurement bulletin, gazette and newspapers of wide national circulation, notice of each contract awarded.
But responding to questions from both Senators and Representatives of the Public Accounts Committee in the joint chambers of the Capitol Building, Madam Weeks indicated that the LTA has authorization from the President to withdraw from the entity’s account without budget approval.
She also told the lawmakers that LTA cannot remain static in operation because of budget delay or passage and refused to take responsibility of over US$1m that was overspent outside of the national budget.
Madam Weeks responded to one of GAC findings that the system lacks non-existence of fixed asset register(internal control) as saying she does not know how long it will take the LTA to complete asset registration.
Although the GAC recommended that the LTA should maintain a proper record of fixed assets which should be made available to GAC for verification, Weeks agreed to the recommendation to put in good record of fixed assets but later told the lawmakers that LTA policy is different from government policy on internal control.
Addressing the issue of allowance and per diem at the LTA, Weeks said policy requires flat rate travel allowance of all staff, but sometimes it is less or more than what government has.
The Public Accounts Committee later instructed the Sergeant-At-Arm to discharge all of the witnesses including Madam Weeks and reminded that the committee would call her again while it is reviewing some of the responses and items mentioned in the GAC audit report or she would hear from them through the President.